|Art by Tran Nguyen|
“The Utmost Bound” by Vivian Shaw (3591 words)
No Spoilers: McBride and Artanian are the crew of a shuttle overseeing a rover mission on Venus. The conditions below are brutal, and yet their rover, Little Buddy, is doing well, getting data and investigating anomalies. There are secrets waiting on the surface, though, that are rather shattering. The piece for me is largely procedural, about the experience of being over this hostile environment, of the confinement and the weight of what they find. It also has a bit of a horror streak to me, though, as we are brought face to face with the cost of exploration and discovery.
Keywords: Venus, Space Exploration, Rovers, Secrets, Astronauts
Review: Stories about exploring Venus are fascinating to me, and here we have one that actually sees the planet from the ground, exploring its expanse and desolation. I like how the story sets the scene, this very routine atmosphere, the astronauts going about their business professionally and well. They’re staring at the alien landscape, experiencing vicariously how bleak and awful it is. And then they come across an anomaly, and their whole perspective on the experience shifts. And for me it’s a creepy shift, one that gives the piece more scope and more impact, because instead of being able to experience Venus from a distance, this discovery forces them or perhaps tricks them into erasing that distance, into really understanding what it would be like to be on the surface of Venus, to have no hope of escape, to slowly or quickly have to deal with a lot of things all at once. The first being the sense of accomplishment and wonder, perhaps. The same thing that the astronauts in orbit feel, seeing Venus. But then the sense of being stuck, of being lost, of dealing with the nightmare that the surface is. That terror is something of a living thing and I like how the story injects that into the characters. It’s not exactly the fastest of stories, in my opinion, but I think it does a good job of using the setting to make a comment on science and space and terror, the terror of moving too fast, to far, even as it’s a seductive call. A fine read!
“Your Slaughterhouse, Your Killing Floor” by Sunny Moraine (5094 words)
No Spoilers: Girl walks into a bar. From there, really anything can happen. And does. If it sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, just wait until you get to the punchline, which is sharp and bloody and tinged with acid and the sound of the world dying. For me, the piece explores violence and anger and pain in a gripping, immediate way that speaks of desperation and need. It’s an unraveling of a story, a deconstruction both metaphorical and very literal. It’s also visceral, uncomfortable, and confrontational, which makes for a rather tense and thrilling experience.
Keywords: CW- Violence, Explosions, Pain, Sex, Queer MC
Review: In many ways for me this is about repression and oppression and the dams people build within themselves to hold back the anger and action they want to express. For the main character here, she’s always bottled things up because if she didn’t, Bad Things happened. Explosions. Fires. Electrical nightmares. She learned to but a lid on it in order to avoid causing a scene, doing damage, hurting anyone. Except, of course, herself. Until she finds someone like her, with the same ability, and things get intense. The story captures a moving, almost frantic pace, in part because it feels like an exhalation, an explosion of breath and desire and need. The narrator has lived by denying herself and her anger, and yet in doing so really hasn’t done herself any favors. What she’s done is in some ways internalize the systems of oppression around her, the misogyny and the belief that she shouldn’t fight. Except that the pressure has been growing inside her her entire life. And I like that the piece begins with a fight, and how that escalates. How it begins as a fight that’s supposed to be somewhat...safe? The main character picks a fight with another woman, knowing in some ways that it’s a more accepted target, knowing that it’s more okay for women to attack women. Only things do not go as expected. Momentum builds. Targets shift. For me it’s a story about unravelling, not just for the narrator’s character but for the world that she lives in. Once she accepts just this smallest of things, that she’s not alone, then the entire system on which she has built herself, the system for which she constrains herself, falls apart. The lie at the heart of this cycle is exposed and what results is violent and seemingly unstoppable, filled with love and blood and destruction, both freeing and annihilating. It’s a somewhat disturbing read at times for that, because it’s so intimate, so focused, and yet for me it’s also wonderful as well, beautiful and powerful and very much worth checking out. Go read it!
“Lines of Growth, Lines of Passage” by Marissa Lingen (4052 words)
No Spoilers: Shuang finds herself inside a tree, with no real memory of how she got there. And getting out of that predicament really only introduces new ones to come. New ones, though, that she might have a fresh insight on. With a rather charming, relaxed voice and a wonderful treatment of magic, non-violent problem solving, and consent, the story moves with a sigh and a shrug and just the hint of a knowing smile. Shuang is experienced and patient, and it’s her willingness to unconventionally that really brings the story together for me.
Keywords: Magic, Betrayal, Communication, Trees, Apprenticeship
Review: I think a lot of my reading of this story comes down to altering perspectives. Perhaps fitting, then, that the story begins following an attempted altering not of perspective, but of roles, a betrayal that sees Shuang trapped and needing to escape. It captures the sort of thinking that dominates so much of human problem solving—namely, it images a goal and then finds a tool to make that goal happen. And yet this way of of thinking that treats every issue like it’s a nail in want of a hammer really doesn’t work. It opens with violence, with coercion, with an arrogance that the only solution is a bigger weapon, a more powerful spell. In situations where the person seeking something isn’t the most powerful person in the room, though, that kind of thinking only...ends poorly. In the piece we see what happens when humans try to force iron giants to act in certain ways, try to dominate them in order to get what they want. The iron giants, however, are powerful, and in some ways operate in entirely different scales than humans. So Shuang changes the values at play. Instead of making this about what the humans want and how to make the iron giants obey, she seeks to find out what _they_ want, and in doing so opens a conversation that allows for a better understanding not just of everyone’s intentions, but of the world. And I love how the story works with that, showing the power of valuing consent and cooperation. And really for me it’s a fun story with a charming main character who manages to be kind and careful and patient without being naive or wrong. She acts, and acts decisively, but not in the way I at least have been taught to expect in a fantasy story. She seeks to understand and to find solutions that are actual solutions, not just satisfying to a single desire of a single person or group. It’s a fun, wonderful read!
“The Date” by R.K. Kalaw (989 words)
No Spoilers: Two people go on a date at a steakhouse. The exact nature of those people, though, and just what their appetites are, keep the story teeming with mystery and an edge of danger. At it’s heart, I feel the story is about embracing desire, about not bowing to the niceties of social conventions. In that, it’s very well paired with the Moraine piece, because both feature women embracing their desires, come what may. Provocative and kinda weird, it works for me as a flash piece with an eye for stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Keywords: Dating, Eating, Appetites, Queer MC
Review: Okay so I kinda love that the speculative element to this piece seems to be that the love interest of the narrator might be a giant anthropomorphic praying mantis. It’s never outright said, but it certainly gives a great edge of the piece, showing how the narrator is attracted to someone who is so dangerous, who doesn’t hide who they are, who is full of appetites and power. The narrator seems perhaps a bit more human, but even so there’s something that reflects the nature of the mantis inside her as well. But it’s something that she keeps careful control over, something that she hides because she thinks other people will be intimidated by it. And it takes someone who seems impossible to intimidate to draw her out, to allow her to be seen for who she really is and not the disguise she wears in order to avoid attention. But attention is really what she wants, and I love how the story reveals that and embraces that. It’s a very short piece, but it’s also an incredibly fun piece, about accepting yourself and, even more than that, celebrating yourself. Because it’s more than about being seen by one person. It’s about being seen by an entire restaurant’s worth of people, about how wonderfully freeing that can feel, to actually express yourself and let other people be uncomfortable, because they _are_ the ones who should be. Because there’s nothing wrong with who the narrator is, or what she wants. And it’s a great way to close out the original fiction of the issue!
“Shadow-Song” by Sonya Taaffe
This poem speaks to me of plays and Germany and a tradition that I personally am not that familiar with. As such, my reading of the poem is more about what I feel from it, a sense of celebration that comes with a deep complexity. A reach toward something that is dead and gone and yet still alive, a body of work that reflects a place with all its history, with all its twisted messy artsits. A place that produced so many works that comment on so much, that saw corruption and tyranny but also stubborn hope and heroism, song and subtly. It’s a relatively short poem, a single stanza, the lines variable and giving the impression to me of a waves, of cycles, of iterations. The language is highly referential, evoking names of writers who I would guess captured the feel for this place, for Germany or at least Berlin, a line of people influencing each other, passing along the torch into the present, teaching with their words the personality of a city, the tragedies and the small joys. And it points then away and out, to all the people who are coming to know the place through these works, through the visions of these writers, finding there something beautiful and terrible and all too human. I feel like I probably missed a lot in this one because I’m not as familiar with the people mentioned, but I still very much enjoyed the flow and feel of it, and very much recommend you check it out for yourselves!
“1532” by Ana Hurtado
I always have the urge to call poems like this one dense, mainly because of the form, the lines taking up all the space on the screen/page. I tend to think of them as little bricks, powerful and heavy. And while I think that this poem _is_ dense, is powerful and heavy, I also realized as I was reading it that it’s also just one line. Technically, at least, this is just one line of a poem, but one that cannot be contained by the screen, the page, without breaking it up, without imposing lines on it. Copy and paste the poem into a program that doesn’t limit how long a single line can be, and you’ll find yourself scrolling right, not down. And for me I love how that seems to tie into the nature of what the poem describes, that it’s revealing this wound, this moment that has escaped the bounds of its specific moment, that is traveling through time, through the universe, flying through space because it’s something that cannot be undone. That the violence of it, the weight of it, has moved past whatever lmit the colonizers might have tried to put on it. It stretches on, reaching onward, relentless and constant. Until the end. And for me the ending feels like the arc of a rainbow, the reader essentially a target and the poem an arrow flying to meet them, striking them with the responsibility to remember, with the piercing knowledge of what happened, erasing the erasure that has happened, revealing it. It’s a bit of a strange piece but I love the language of it, the way it mixes space and history, asteroids and adobe. It’s a poem that for me speaks of a past that is complicated by the pain of those who were crushed by history, by unjust institutions, who deserve to be heard, and seen, and unburdened at last of the wrong that was done them. A wonderful read!